Building a new totally free phone

Michael Spacefalcon msokolov at ivan.Harhan.ORG
Fri Aug 23 01:58:04 CEST 2013

Bob Ham <rah at> wrote:

> Please allow me to address a question to the community as a whole: if
> you can produce a free phone then why aren't you?  Do it!  What are you
> *waiting* for?

Well, as you've asked the community as a whole, without restrictive
language to exclude any particular factions of the community (e.g.,
the illegal faction, which I'm heading), I'll take the liberty of
posting my answer.

I am in fact working on building a new phone - as in new physical hw.
However, the type of phone I'm seeking to build is quite different from
what Canonical tried to fund, and from what most of this community
seems to be interested in.  I personally will never be happy with a
smartphone *of any kind* as my everyday phone - instead the kind of
phone I want is the kind we all had in the 1990s - a plain or "dumb"
or feature phone.  And that is the type of phone I'm working on
building - a plain old-fashioned "candybar" phone without any smarts,
and no application processor to run Linux or any other smartphone OS -
only the traditional ARM7 baseband processor running traditional RTOS-
based GSM phone firmware.

But the plain/dumb/feature phone which I'm working on building will
have one key difference from the ones you can buy for $20 on ebay: it
will be 100% free as in freedom, in terms of both hardware and
firmware.  In the case of hardware it means publishing full,
*unredacted* schematics and PCB EDA files, and choosing only those
components for which full documentation is available.  As for the
firmware, yes, it will be an RTOS phone, no Linux or the like, no
application processor, but the full C source for that RTOS-based
firmware can still be published.  And because such a totally free
phone can never, ever, ever be produced legally, I am doing it as an
explicitly-illegal project, under the aegis of the international
community of outlaws, criminals and lawbreakers - i.e., my brothers
and sisters.

Of course a project of this magnitude won't happen overnight.  But I
handle it the same way I've handled all other projects which appear
totally insurmountable at first: I divide the problem into bite-sized
chunks, and work on the initial stages without worrying too much about
what difficulties may lie in the later stages - I'll deal with those
when the time comes.  The FreeCalypso phone project has the following
rough roadmap:

1. Build the FreeCalypso software/firmware first.  In May-June of this
   year I have found some new and exciting TI firmware source leaks
   (archived on my mini-Wikileaks at which will
   hopefully make it unnecessary for me to sacrifice my life in a
   gunfire exchange with the German or Russian police after kidnapping
   a moko-hoarder: these new leaks appear to be much closer to TI's
   "mainline" than the famous PurpleLabs TSM30 source, and I'm quite
   confident that by using these new leaks I can recreate something
   very close to what Om-Inc and its former employees/contractors have
   wrongfully withheld from Humanity - but in full source form.  (The
   LoCosto leak in particular, which I'm backporting from LoCosto to
   Calypso, has the GSM stack in full source form, unlike what Om-Inc
   purportedly got, and it appears to be from the same time frame as
   Om's version - much newer than the TSM30 one.)

I am working on this sw/fw part right now, using the Pirelli DP-L10
feature phone and the GTA02 GSM modem as my two bring-up/test
platforms.  In fact, the Pirelli phone fits me almost perfectly in
terms of hardware features, and I have thought long and hard about
just settling on it as my hw platform.  But there are a few problems
with this existing platform which have ultimately swayed me to my
current plan of biting the bullet and building my own phone hw instead:

a) No schematics could be found for this phone.  (The OsmocomBB folks
   are also hacking on Compal/Motorola phones for which there are full
   schematics, but their hardware features are insufficient for me: I
   would really miss the tri-band support, the loudspeaker and the USB
   charging capability.)  Schematics can be reconstructed by PCB reverse
   engineering given enough determination, but it would be hard to
   justify the effort given the other two problems:

b) This particular phone has a bunch of extra chips beyond the
   essential Calypso chipset, and for most of these extra chips no
   docs can be found.  While they support functionality which I can
   easily live without (camera and WiFi), their presence would
   tremendously complicate any attempt to reconstruct the full
   schematics, and may throw up issues when the time comes to implement
   thorough power management: how do we ensure that these undocumented
   and unsupported chips are fully powered down?

c) The biggest show-stopper of all: the supply of these phones on the
   surplus market appears to have been exhausted.  I've managed to grab
   a few before they disappeared, so I've got enough for my sw/fw
   development and testing, but not enough to give out to members of my
   own coven (for use as everyday phones), let alone for the general
   public interested in a totally free phone, albeit by means of
   illegal firmware.

Hence I have made the plan that after I'm done with the FreeCalypso
sw/fw part (i.e., once I'm able to make and receive calls with my
DP-L10 and my GTA02 running my freecalypso-sw), I will tackle the task
of building my own hardware:

* The core chipset will be Calypso, exactly the same version as in the
  GTA02 and Pirelli phones - the chips are still readily available in
  decent quantities from several Chinese sellers.

* The rest of the hardware will be modeled after Pirelli DP-L10 - see
  OsmocomBB's description of that phone.  I've already found the same
  flash+pSRAM chip used by Pirelli, so there is plenty of room to grow
  the firmware into a high-end feature phone, and I'll use a 128x128
  CSTN LCD just like Pirelli's - either exactly the same LCM or a
  functional equivalent.  I'll keep the super-neat USB arrangement
  used by Pirelli (using either the same CP2102 or maybe an FTDI chip),
  and I'm shooting for a quad-band RF front-end like in TI's Leonardo+
  reference design.

* Those components of Pirelli's design for which We the People lack
  documentation will be dropped - that means the camera and WiFi.  The
  camera stands a good chance of being re-added in a later version,
  but not the WiFi - I have no use for the latter, the software
  complexity required to make use of it in a pure RTOS environment
  would be enormous, hence I'm not going to design hardware which I'll
  never use and for which I'll never justify expending the time to
  develop the necessary sw.

The first version of my non-smart Calypso GSM phone design will be
built as a bare board without caring too much about the form factor -
just roughly the size of a typical candybar phone.  And most important
of all, all hw design source files for that board will be free to the
world (in fact, the design will be done in a public source repository
from the beginning, and using free EDA tools) - hence even if I never
take the project any further, others will be free to take the PCB
design source and tweak to whatever form factor or circuit changes
they like.

Of course there will be no requirement of running my (illegal)
FreeCalypso firmware on this GSM board - if someone would rather run
the purportedly-legal OsmocomBB code instead, there is no reason why
that wouldn't work.  But don't delude yourself into thinking that you
can make a totally free GSM phone actually legal simply by abstaining
from reusing TI's working GSM stack code and rewriting it all from
scratch yourself a la OsmocomBB - it will *still* be an illegal phone,
simply because it's an unlicensed radio transmitter operating in the
highly regulated GSM frequency bands.  No regulator will *ever* grant
legal approval to a totally free cellphone which is specifically
designed to empower every user to recompile the modem firmware from
source and to tinker with it as s/he pleases.  Hence any such totally
free phone will always have to be explicitly-illegal, regardless of
whether one reuses existing firmware source code or not - and I choose
to reuse.

But there is one thing which the community needs to grasp: just because
something is illegal does NOT automatically mean that it's bad, or that
it's impractical, or that it shouldn't be done.  We the People outnumber
the cops by 1000 to 1.  The most effective way to get rid of repressive
laws is to break them universally.  If every single person is a
lawbreaker, whom are they going to go after?  The narcs were powerless
to stop the People from drinking booze during the Prohibition, they are
powerless to stop us from using drugs now, and we need to show them
that they are just as powerless to stop us from using illegal GSM
phones, operating without approval and reusing good working source
code without regard for copyrights, trade secrets etc.

Anyway, the point of my post was and is that someone *is* in fact
working on building a new totally free phone, albeit illegal, and not
a smartphone but of the plain/dumb/feature kind.

Viva la Revolucion,

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